Monday, May 11, 2015

So you think you are an whisky expert do you??? Really...

THAT DOES IT!!!!!!! 

Monday May 11th 2015 at 7:35am, the Lassie reads a tweet and feels a HUGE snap in the sagittal plane where her cerebral cortex sits (that's for you Ken!) that caused a plethora of blasphemous French words to fall out of her mouth like the notes of an angry opera!? Just so happens I was home alone and like the proverbial tree in the forest, nobody heard me... but that doesn't mean I won't say something about it now... Gotta love when Lassie decides to lose her shit.

Expert... Defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as: "Having, involving, displaying special skills or knowledge derived from training or experience."

Wow that is a loose definition. I mean really anyone could be considered an expert with that vague description. I have several years experience using a bathtub, almost 48 for that matter, I guess that makes me a bathtub expert! 

So, I asked all day what people thought a whisky expert was. Many, MANY great answers which I appreciated because dialogue and input means everything to me sometimes. It gives me perspective and ideas. 

Well in my perfectly warped world here is how one becomes an expert.

1. Curiosity: It usually starts with an introduction, realization and then a desire to learn more about a subject that one finds interesting. It's a lifelong insatiable curiosity that fuels them passionately for decades, if not their entire lifetime.

2. The learning phase: You must first be a pupil in order to become the master! Thus begins the journey of amassing loads of knowledge, information and a deep understanding of the subject. Their mind is a sponge due to memorization and the love they are developing. Just like the curiosity phase, the learning phase is a constantly evolving one because they see the importance of seeking new approaches and directions. A true expert is willing to have an open mind and realizes that there is no "one way" to do things.

3. Experience: Once this person has begun to accumulate the loads of information about their valued subject matter, it's usually combined with getting experience. The application of everything they have learned, making mistakes with the ability to accept and learn from them, constantly learning more and continuing to apply themselves. The example I love to give is Jiro dreams of Sushi 

Jiro, 86 years old, is widely considered to be the greatest sushi chef in the world. To apprentice with him you must first be able to properly hand squeeze a towel. Only once the student demonstrates the right technique can they be allowed to touch fish, then it's 10 years or so learning to cut and prepare fish before they are allowed to cook the eggs and so on. 

4. Communication: This phase is also never ending and morphs as the individual becomes comfortable with the subject matter. The more knowledge and experience they gain, the better they become at communicating. 

5. Teaching, mentoring, and reaching expert level: Although many of you may have started sharing your level of knowledge for quite some time, in my books you are still classified as being at a certain level of proficiency on said subject matter. 

Once a person is widely recognized AND called upon on a regular basis AND  has begun to pass along their knowledge, skills and experience to others have they reached the stage of "expert". A good teacher elevates their students with the hopes that someday they will surpass them. And again, I will stress that an open mind and willingness to learn from others is still part of the process. 

All these things combined form a life long investment, learning process, and in the end, legacy of a subject an expert holds dear to their heart.

Examples of some of the people I consider experts in one or more fields of whisky (alphabetical order): 

Helen Arthur, Parker Beam, Dave Broom, Lew Bryson
Chuck Cowdery, John Glaser, Davin de Kergommeaux, John Hall, Michael Jackson, Martine Nouet, Charles MacLean, Jim McEwan, Jimmy Russell, Masataka Taketsuru, Michael Urquhart, Serge Valentin, Bessie Williamson.

You will note that the average age of some of the people mentioned is about 65 years old. THAT should tell you something. 

So to the guy on twitter since 2013 who bought 16,000 followers, has "whisky expert" as part of his written blurb and constantly sends messages to distilleries stating their whisky is the best because he, the Canadian Whisky Expert, said so...  Please -> You are not even close to being an expert.

To the creepy guy in the fedora with the fancy whisky book -> I WILL NEVER CONSIDER YOU AN EXPERT for way too many reasons!!

To the multitude of people flooding Amazon with their mediocre e-books and/or whisky books written in their 20's or 30's based on "research" they did and reviewed by their friends -> Don't call yourself a whisky expert, yet...

To the hundreds of whisky bloggers who can't even take the time to spell correctly, simply cut/paste information from marketing emails or distillery websites and pump out reviews daily -> You are NOT experts.

To the thousands of people who go to whisky festivals to stand for 20 minutes and argue with EVERY ambassador and whisky maker because you took the weekend whisky making course in Colorado -> You are not EXPERTS!

And lastly, the biggest of my pet peeves: 

To the useless people who spend the majority of their entire existence on the Malt Maniacs Facebook page, twitter or on whisky forums doing nothing better than being judgmental, putting down everyone else, bullying ambassadors & reps, having close minded attitudes and refusing to learn anything further than the end of their own noses -> YOU ARE NOT EXPERTS!!! 

This is really not up for debate with me. I truly feel becoming an expert takes a combination of time, patience, mistakes and lots of experience. The rest of us, ME INCLUDED, rank somewhere between complete amateurs, enthusiasts, geeks or very proficient.  AND... that's ok, I would even say that's awesome. But feel free to let me know what you think...

As always I'm on my own journey, forever learning and morphing into something different as time goes by. I can only aspire to some day down the road, being considered an expert by my peers BUT for time being if you or anyone else calls me that, I will correct you immediately. I am no more and no less a whisky student constantly learning, still...

At this rate I still have about 20 years in my apprenticeship and I have wonderful mentors helping me along the way. It will be long while yet before you see me agree to the term "whisky expert" and never will you see it on my business card!

Thanks for listening...  


A slightly less perturbed Lassie.


  1. "...and never will you see it on my business card."

    Amen to that.

  2. A long overdue and well written post, Johanne!

    Just one thing missing: Those who take themselves too seriously will never become true experts.

    Being and expert is something you'll get called by people repeatedly if and when you deserve it after spending years and years building your knowledge and understanding. There are no shortcuts.

    1. That was the sentiment of many people I spoke to, you really have to put your "time" in and be willing and very patient to cut your teeth on the matter. Thanks for the input Klaus!

  3. Nice...Nice Rant - Well said. Rick Mercer would be proud

  4. I saw this bloke on Twitter too. I could not believe my eyes when I read 'Whisky Expert' in his profile. What a nutter! Great article.

    1. Takes all kinds I guess, however if that individual ever gets into an argument with me, he better show up ready. I refuse to have a battle of wits with anyone who is unarmed ;)

  5. When I began my whisky journey, I did a lot of knowledge based research so that I would at least know what I should be looking for and then I went on a three month purchasing and tasting spree. I learned a lot in a short amount of time but even now I wouldn't say I'm anything more than an enthusiast with a bit more knowledge than the average whisky drinker. I like the term that Ralfy uses - anorak. There's still a lot more rungs on the ladder. I'd say that the journey is more fun than the destination.

    1. Totally agree! We all start somewhere and most of us will never reach "expert" level, but it truly is about the journey, the experiences, the learning and all the people you meet along the way. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and story!

  6. So very true, and well said!

  7. This is from Paste magazine :
    Canadian whisky is much more diverse than many people realize, says Canadian whisky expert Johanne McInnis

    1. Yup... I know...

      I told the reporter twice that I do NOT consider myself a whisky expert and Ms. Cole still chose to write it. I also stated at the very end of the interview that Davin de Kergommeaux is who I considered to be the "Canadian Whisky Expert".

      Not much I can do about that, except be adamant in future interviews, which I assure you I always am.

    2. You'll have to get used to that, I am afraid. Especially if you will be a part of articles in the future. That term is equal parts respect for you and their need to provide a compelling reason for people to want to continue reading and/or take the article seriously. If they don't list you as a "whisky expert," then why should the reader care what you have to say?

    3. She could have easily used whisky writer, blogger, judge, persona... Or she could have written although Johanne doesn't feel she is an expert , etc... My business card says Johanne McInnis - Whisky Geek & Passionate Enthusiast ;)

    4. you got a business card highlighting your whisky credentials? Thous dost protest too much.

  8. Bravo, Johanne! You nailed it.

    1. I think I am a bit old fashioned and simply don't believe in cutting corners or self labelling yourself as an expert. However, thank you for the compliment.

  9. Love the post. A Fedora certainly helps. I bought one myself because I only make whiskey, and at times, find it important to alert people to the fact that I might actually know something about it.

    1. Thanks for the input! Whiskey making is an art and if a fedora is what you choose to wear, I won't say a word. Keep making great Koval whiskies please!!! ;)

  10. Johanne, thank you for that great article. Very well done!

    I agree with you. I would never call myself an expert - not in my business (IT) and not regarding whisky (my passion). Calling yourself an expert is nothing that fits to my way of live. Others might call you an expert but your cartoon shows the "typical" expert. I like to learn more about whisky and I like to tell other people about my journey to more knowlege. As you stated it is a very long way being an expert and my understanding of live is you can always learn something new if you are open minded and don't believe you already know everything.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  11. I think I love you.

  12. Great rant for the end of the weekend. I find it ironic that most of the people who know they are not experts, realize that fact because they have most likely experienced more and know more than those that don't know enough not to call themselves "Experts" ???!! I re-read it.... ya that makes sense, but then again I'm no English expert. :)